I just go off the phone with J. Alfred Smith, Sr. the senior pastor emeritus of the largest African American church in Oakland. He told me how this ( Friday ) morning, on a walk in a wooded area near his home and walking with a cane, he saw a white woman with a dog coming toward him, and momentarily he was filled with fear that the dog might attack him and if he lifted the cane to protect himself who knew if she might be carrying a gun or in some way put him in danger--a result of the Trayvon Martin murder.Finally, she smiled at him and he felt a relief of tensions.
He told me he was crying when he heard from another pastor at his church that I had approached his church yesterday to ask if it would be o.k. for Jews and other spiritual progressives (of every ethnic, racial, religious or secular identity) to come to his church this Sunday so that we could show solidarity with the African American community.
He said that he was so overjoyed with this gesture at a time when fears are so profound that he cried, and was still, at the moment he was talking to me, on the verge of tears. Yes, he said, do come, and do spread the word to others, "though just your presence, Rabbi Lerner, will speak volumes to Oakland's African American community about the solidarity of the Jewish community with our Black community."
So that is why I'm writing to YOU to urge you to either come with me on Sunday or go to a nearer African American church this Sunday and let the African American community in your neighborhood or town know that they are not alone, that we understand their fear and stand in solidarity with them. No matter where you came out on the Zimmerman trial, you can still stand in solidarity with African Americans, support them in their grief, and signal to them that they are not alone.
This weekend there will be at least a hundred demonstrations calling for justice in the murder of Trayvon Martin. You can call your local NAACP or go on line to find the one closest to you. We hope you will attend one.
But I'm also asking you to try this other way to express solidarity with ordinary African Americans who are once again reminded of how pervasive and frightening the racism is that surrounds and for many defines the lives of African Americans in this country.
We at Tikkun and the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming (i.e. you dont have to believe in God to join us) Network of Spiritual Progressives urge you to show up at your local African American churches in your town, and just be with people as they grieve and express their fears. You will encounter there a different section of the African American community than you'll find at the demonstrations. And those church-goers are actually likely to be very appreciative if you are coming. If you have time, you could draw up a short leaflet explaining why you are there.Or contact your local AfricanAmerican church and ask the pastor for his/her advice about the best way you can show solidarity. But J Alfred Smith Sr. made clear to me that people would welcome your presence even without alerting the pastors in advance.(Of course, if you are already part of an integrated church community and you believe that this issue is going to be discussed there this Sunday , then you don't need to go elsewhere to find solidarity with Africna Americans--just go to that community)
If you are going to be in the S.F. Bay Area this weekend, how about coming with me to the Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Blvd, Oakland, Ca.? It would be great to be there with some other spiritual progressives. Lets meet there at 10:45 a.m. and try to sit together? Give yourself time to find parking in the area.
Please send this letter out to everyone on your lists, post it on your Facebook page, tweet it, and in any other way possible communicate this spontaneous gesture of solidarity.